Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

A Barren Island in a Sea of Babies January 18, 2011

When I look around my group of friends, I find that there’s about a 50-50 split between those who have children and those who don’t. I think I’m lucky in that respect. But when I look at my family, I see a very different picture.

I was really shocked to discover that among my relatives back in the UK, I am the ONLY one of my generation who does not have children and, as a family, we are a pretty fertile bunch. I have one uncle who never married or had children, but all my other aunts and uncles (nine couples), every single one of my 21 cousins (including my brothers), and many (at least seven) of my cousins’ children all have children. The only one who doesn’t is me.

As I live a long way from my family, I’m rarely in one of those big family get-togethers that highlights my childlessness, but even from this distance, I feel odd. I can’t help but wonder why I was singled out for infertility. Clearly, it doesn’t run in my family!

There are benefits to my status, though—I am more accessible to my nieces and nephews, and I also have the flexibility to spend long periods of time with my mother, especially as she gets older, but I still feel sometimes like the oddball in my family.

When you look around at your extended family, are you the only one who doesn’t have children? Or are you surprised to find you’re not alone?

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11 Responses to “A Barren Island in a Sea of Babies”

  1. sewforward Says:

    Yes, I do feel like the ‘odd man out’. That feeling -over the years- has waned but it is still there. In fact, yesterday I went to a funeral and afterwards as we are all standing around an old friend of my husband’s came over to chat. The topic: his high school age son! Who I have never met nor did he introduce us to him. I tuned the guy out and watched the crowd milling about. Once again this incident reminded me how SO out-of-touch I am with my ‘child centric peers’.

  2. Sue Says:

    I completely understand this one. My dad’s side of the family all live fairly close and we get together for all major holidays. He was born later than his sisters were so my first cousins are almost my parents’ age and his sister even had great grandchildren. At these gatherings everyone has children, some of them have four kids and counting. The generations go on and on. Then there is my poor father’s branch of the family tree. Since my sister and I both cannot have children, his branch will remain a pitiful stump. I think my whole family (mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and husband) all feel like the “odd men out” at these functions. Especially during the easter egg hunts and when of the kiddies gather round to open Christmas gifts. At least I have others to keep me company in that sad little corner we hang out in. It’s at these times I feel so bad for not being able to give my parents grandchildren.

  3. Sonja Lewis Says:

    I too can relate, as I am one of seven children and the only one without a child. And when casting the net to first cousins (large family), I’m still in the minority with two of the guys, who are confirmed bachelors. One of them actually passed recently, how very sad.

    Anyhow, though my family members are keen to keep me feeling motherly, I tend to feel like the odd one out, even when talking to them on the phone about special events. Grandchildren are always at my mom’s house.

    Thanks Lisa, for your sharp prose. I do enjoy your site.

  4. loribeth Says:

    My sister is also childfree (by choice). Among our immediate first cousins, there are just two I can think of who don’t have children — both just got married, one in her mid-30s & one in her early 40s. However, several of my mother’s cousins either never married or had children, and of those who did have kids, there are quite a few of my contemporaries (in their 40s & 50s) who don’t have children. I don’t feel quite so alone at those extended family gatherings!

    Among dh’s relatives, we are the only married adult cousins on both sides of his family who don’t have kids. Which totally sucks. :p I can think of at least four of his cousins who are rumoured to have gone through infertility treatments to build their families, but it’s all very hush-hush. I respect their privacy (I was never inclined to talk about our own situation either), but sometimes I feel sad thinking of the support we could have given each other, if only we’d been a little more open.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      loribeth, that’s really interesting. We don’t talk about things much in my family either. About the only person I really talked too was my S-I-L, who is Fertile Myrtle (as she says, my brother only has to sneeze and she is pregnant), so could only talk about her friends’ experiences. Having a support system would have been great (not that I wish this on any of my family or friends, but you know what I mean.)

  5. Julie Says:

    My sister and I are the only ones out of all of the cousins in our generation that don’t have children. My sister has been trying for over a year with no luck. Of course, almost all of the cousins got pregnant the first time (all of them have at least two kids) in high school or VERY soon after. One cousin had four kids by the time she was 20 and had her tubes tied for her 21st birthday. Sometimes we joke that our family is apparently only fertile when it’s not the best time to have kids. So I definitely feel like the odd man out in large get-togethers, but those hardly ever happen. My brother has only one child, but he and his wife are such a crappy parents that my parents have taken over raising their son (they live with my parents now due to financial difficulty). I think my brother realizes he isn’t cut out for parenting so I think there are no plans for a second. And of course, they got pregnant on the first month of trying. Yep, life is totally fair.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      Julie, I don’t think I respond to your comment about your brother without coming across as totally bitter. I’m sending you a telepathic comment instead. Let me know if you you receive it! 😉

  6. Kathryn Says:

    Ii have a sister and a couple of my cousins without children, but then we come from a huge extended family. Most of our family do have children (my aunts and uncles, all 17 of them, have children) and many of my cousins have grandchildren now.

    I think what is hardest for me is the sister who does have children (and we are not close) has a very condescending, “you can’t possibly understand, you are not a mama” attitude. That puts a lot of distance between us.

    I have been more aware of how many folks i know who are childless, and it is quite a number. And i’m only speaking of the ones i know personally, not online. Online friends multiplies that number greatly. I am coming to see (and have mentioned it here before) that i think the reason i’m not as aware of it until i really begin looking is that we don’t have the galvanizing experience of pregnancy/childbirth/children. Without a unifying experience, it is easy to forget that we have the “no children” experience in common.

  7. Elena Says:

    I can see how that can be hurtful but in my case it’s the other way round – and hurtful, too. My sister is 36 and childless as well so far, it seems her bf wants to invest more in his career than being a father… i’m single now, so no little nieces and nephews from dh/bf’s side… of my generation i have only two female cousins on my fathers side. That means only my dad and one of his sisters ever even had kids – the 4 (!) other uncles/aunties never did. one of those cousins (43 years old) never got married or had children. The older (48) got married and went through years of infertility treatment and finally adopted a boy. I have some much younger cousins (still teenagers) on my mothers side whom i don’t know at all since my mom is not really in touch with her brother. And two young men (around 30 years old) who are my mom’s cousin’s sons, i’m not really in touch with them anymore since we were children. They’re not fathers yet though they are both the type to become fathers soon. Oh yeah: My mum’s other cousin who lives in Spain has three kids and they’re just young students now. Her third cousin left his first girlfriend after ten years without founding a family and then went and had three children with his now wife, those are still young children. But these people aren’t really closely related to me.
    So, that’s it for my extended family. And it all just makes me feel that the whole tribe is basically getting extinct/falling apart. That makes me feel lonely and disconnected and adds to the hurt of childlessness.

  8. Iris D Says:

    Lisa, when you wrote this post, I was in Cuba visiting my relatives. The last time I had visited them was 14 years ago. I was asked on average twice a day for 21 days if I had children (by distant relatives) or when I was going to have children (by closer cousins). It was awkward to say the least. We are 11 first cousins, out of which 2 of us do not have children, but 6 of us have children and one of us has great grand-children. Most people get married really young in Cuba, and the government provides free fertility treatment.


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